If you are an old school Incredible Hulk comic book fan , you know big fella's true origin story. You probably know it like you know your own birthday. For those who are unaware, allow me to retell it...
The US Army is preparing to test their newest weapon. It is called a Gamma Bomb. Moments before the first test detonation, the bomb's designer, the brilliant but meek Doctor David Bruce Banner, looks out at the test range in shock. A teen driving an old jalopy has haplessly driven onto the blast zone seconds before the test bomb is planned to detonate. Banner orders the count-down stopped as he races to save the boy. However, the count-down is not stopped. Moments after pushing young Rick Jones to safety the bomb explodes, exposing Banner to the full force of the Gamma ray blast.
"Caught in the heart of a nuclear explosion, a victim of gamma radiation gone wild, Doctor Bruce Banner now finds himself transformed in times of stress into one thousand pounds of unfettered fury - the most powerful creature ever to walk the earth."
I had to look it up, but for most of my youth I had it memorized. It or something similar was written in bold letters at the top of page one of EVERY issue of The Incredible Hulk.
What is the KEY word in the description above, do you think? Anyone? Anyone? That's right! The key work is EXPLOSION! For whatever reason, the powers that be decided to change the Hulk's origins for the movies. In two movies they retold it, and in both cases the monumental moment felt underwhelming.
I know what you are thinking...Chris, you old geek philosopher, who really cares? So there is no Gamma bomb! The Gamma rays are still there in both films and that is essential to his origins. Isn't that good enough?
Well, frankly, no.
In Ang Lee's HULK there IS an accident in a lab. A lab worker is saved by Banner moments before he is dosed with Gamma radiation. Nano meds dosed with Gamma rays resulted in Banner's eventual transformation. Yeah, logically it sort of works. It is a bit convoluted, but not bad.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
In THE INCREDIBLE HULK we are offered a new yet familiar origin. Presumably penned by Edward Norton, during the opening credits we see an origin story inspired by the TV series. As part of the Super Soldier experiments carried out by the US Amy, an accidental but SELF INFLICTED overdose of Gamma rays results in the rage-fueled hero's birth. Okay, this is better, I guess. It hearkens back to a more familiar origin, and ties it nicely with the rest of the MCU.
And yet, I'm still not happy. Something is still missing.
Yes, I admit, the 'test bomb' origin seems very out dated. A big hulking bomb sitting in the middle of the New Mexico desert is reminiscent of how the first nukes were tested, which was probably Stan Lee's inspiration. It's a cool idea. Why drift so far away from it? It couldn't be that the film studios had an aversion to military weapons as part of a hero's birth. Marvel Studios had no problem keeping Tony Stark a weapons manufacturer. If having an actual test bomb in your movie is too archaic, change it but leave in both the Gamma rays and the explosion. Have something like a Gamma reactor failure results in an explosion, something like the one seen in MARVEL'S Avenger's Assemble Season 2 episode "The Arsenal."
Why did Stan Lee use a Gamma bomb for the Hulk's origins? Was it just to use something readers would recognize from current events, or could there be more to it?
Let me get to my point. WHAT is the Incredible Hulk?
The HULK (for lack of a better description) IS a walking (sometimes talking) explosion! He is essentially a bomb with legs. What does a bomb do? It destroys violently and indiscriminately, just like the Hulk. By removing the violence behind the Hulk's birth, you undercut the character! You lose the metaphor of the Hulk's destructive nature!
And by watering down the Hulk's origins, Banner becomes one-dimensional. Banner's folly, his fall from grace by his own hubris, is lost. Gone are plot lines involving Banner trying to stop the spread of Gamma weapons, weapons he helped develop. A crucial element in Bruce's character, namely his guilt for initially developing the bomb, is gone as well.
I can hear you now – Chris, this is just petty it-picking!
Maybe. I try to not let little annoying details ruin an enjoyable movie experience. I am only making this point precisely because I am such a big fan of the character. Heck, I was reading The Incredible Hulk comics since before I could even read! (When I got a little older, I became just as much a Banner fan as a Hulk fan, but that's a subject for another article.) Because I love the character, I want to see his story told properly. Due to changes and reboots, we instead got an elaborate mash-up mixed bag o' origin stories. It is a shame because the G-bomb blast is so closely tied to the Hulk's mythology, right down to the Hulk's (as The Maestro) eventual destruction.
At least the Hulk depicted in The Avengers movies feels true to the classic character. From [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035) trailer, Ruffalo's Banner appears to be having trouble keeping his alter ego in check. A tortured soul, that aspect of the character is very reminiscent of the comic book. Although the mightiest mortal may not be getting another solo movie for a while (someday?) and although his origin has been thoroughly butchered in the movies, at least Marvel Studios seems to be properly developing the character for future MCU films.